eCoaching Tip 57 Tools to Help Teaching Evals: Tracking tools, and Joint Discussion Forums and Blogs

March 24, 2008; checked April 8, 2020

eCoaching Tip 57: Tools to Help Teaching Evals: Tracking Tools and Joint Discussion Forums and Blogs

Expanding your repertoire of online tools always takes time, but using tools that increase your presence and increase student dialogue can make a significant difference in teaching and learning satisfaction. This tip looks at three tools that can boost your teaching evaluations: tracking tools within your CMS, combining blog tools with discussion forums, and adding audio to your announcements and mini-lectures.

Some tools have a great time/benefit ratio and my favorite for this are the tracking tools within your favorite CMS.  With only five to ten minutes of your time, this tool can save you time by helping you stay on top of how your students are doing.  What can this tool do?  This tool gives you — at a glance — snapshots of where one or all of your students are in your course.  This means you can make a quick assessment of how your students are progressing and if some of your students might be in need of your care and attention. When students know you are paying attention to what they do, they know that you care.

Tracking tools make it easy to answer questions, such as the following, quickly and with a minimum of searching and clicking.

  • Are all my students accessing the course site regularly? This is particularly critical to know in the first few days of a course.
  • Has Jason begun accessing the course regularly? How many days has it been since his last course access? Has he been able to address his access and work schedule issues?
  • How is Denise doing with the required discussion postings? Are her postings reflecting increased sophistication and understanding over time? You can gather data for this type of question by choosing a collective view of an individual student’s postings over time.
  • Is the class as a whole progressing on schedule for the course assignments and check tests? Are any bottlenecks starting to form?
  • Does the overall data picture for the course suggest the need for a change in plans and assignments going forward?
  • Use this tracking tool, and then tailor your announcements and emails to how your students are doing.  

More resources on this tool are in the references and resources section below. The tool is so easy you won’t need these resources for using the tool, but you might find them useful for maximizing your use of it.

Teaming Tools — Using Blogs and Discussion Boards Together

Do you use discussion boards? Of course you do. Discussion boards are the online equivalent of conversation time in face-to-face courses. Discussion forums are essential places for discussing core course topics, for building community, and learning what students know, are learning and want to learn. They are great for getting a sense of each student’s zone of proximal development, what they are ready to learn.

What about blogs? Are you currently using these? Blogs are online journals that support individual or small group writing and reflection. Blogs make it easy to combine text, audio, video and images while keeping a record about what each student is learning and thinking. Blogs also are designed to support commenting by faculty and other learners.

Another tip —  Tip #47 Journaling, Blogging and Wiki-ing — compared the uses of journals, wikis and blogs. What that tip didn’t do was to suggest how you might use discussions and blogs in the same course as companion tools for different stages or processes of learning. Here are two stories about how you might use discussions and blogs together from a colleague, Ruth Newberry from Duquesne University,

According to Newberry, the blog tool is “ideal for all the pre-writing work phases” in a writing course. Blogs share many features with text-based journals, but one key difference is that blogs are usually in reverse chronological order, with the latest postings first.  So, in one writing course, students are using the blog as a place to post and collect resources and “think aloud” about possible themes and writing goals.  The blog is also a good place for the student to draft a proposal or abstract, propose a direction for their writing and then invite comments and review from the faculty member or from fellow students.

The discussion board in the writing class then becomes the place where the whole class can “come together” to discuss proposed topics, the writing processes and the role of text and other media collectively consolidating the pre-writing work. Learning and community grows as learners move back and forth between the collective group meetings and the individual authoring and autonomy needed for writing. Research by Hayles, a professor of literature and digital media at Duke University, suggests learners are most stimulated by learning experiences that are “associated with feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness” (2007). Moving back and forth between blogs and discussion forums incorporates these actions and feelings, creating a serendipitous blending of learning and tools.

Another example of the joint use of blogs and discussions is from a nursing course. In this course discussion forums are used for discussing the completed work assignments and for asking questions and the blogs are used for informal planning and thinking.

The power of these tools is multifaceted.   Tracking tools and the follow-up and adjustment of announcements sends messages that you, the instructor, are consistently present.  Combining blogs and discussion boards increase the engagement and thinking by students, and increases the knowledge of student’s learning and state of knowledge.


Hayles, K. N. (2007). Hyper and Deep Attention: The Generational Divide in Cognitive Modes. Profession, pp. 187-199. Retrieved from

Note: These eCoaching tips were initially developed for faculty in the School of Leadership & Professional Advancement at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. This library of tips has been organized, expanded and updated  in the second edition of the  book, The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips (2016) coauthored with Rita- Marie Conrad. Judith can be reached at judith followed by

Copyright Judith V. Boettcher, 2006 – 2020